Via The Guardian: As if Syria didn't have enough problems, now a polio epidemic looms. Click through for the full report and many links. Excerpt:
The United Nations announcement on Sunday that it would demand a record-shattering $6.5bn to fund humanitarian efforts in Syria – as much as it will spend in response everywhere else in the world, combined – underscored the scale of the humanitarian tragedy in Syria.
The same day, the International Rescue Committee released a statement detailing the humanitarian challenge inside Syria: the cost of bread has risen 500%, nearly four-in-five communities are struggling to access food, one in two communities is concerned about clean water, and a shortage of medical supplies is pervasive.
In March 2014, when the Syrian civil war hits the three year anniversary mark, the UN will be supporting roughly three out of four of Syria's 20 million citizens: including 2.5 million Syrians in what the UN designates as "hard-to-reach" areas – areas within Syria largely under rebel control – and 2.3 million who have fled the nation entirely.
But no effort will receive more scrutiny than the UN's push to prevent a polio epidemic. The UN has repeatedly exhorted Syria to allow humanitarian access across conflict lines for immunization campaigns, but is still legally obligated to coordinate with the government.
As the United States and its western partners fret over a perceived lack-of-options in Syria – scared of arming increasingly extremist Islamist rebel groups or legitimizing President Bashar al-Assad four months after chemical weapons attacks killed 1,400 – it is crucial that these nations bring all pressure available on the Syrian government to allow the UN humanitarian access across conflict zones.
By ensuring that Assad's government allows the UN to distribute polio vaccinations in rebel-held or contested areas, the international community can prevent another senseless humanitarian tragedy.
A Reuters report last week alleged that the eastern, contested province of Deir e-Zor, where the disease was first detected, had been purposefully excluded by the Syrian government in a 2012 campaign, citing the region's depopulation. Less than a year later, in October of this year, the World Health Organization documented the first 15 cases of the heavily contagious disease in Syria since 1999 in Deir e-Zor, and the outbreak has since spread to largely rebel-controlled Aleppo and the Damascus suburbs.
Once it appears, the incurable disease, which can paralyze children under five in a matter of hours, is very challenging to contain: only 1-in-200 children carrying polio actually show symptoms. Immunization rates of Syrian children have plummeted to 70%, from pre-war levels near 90%.
"By the time we find a single case, the horse is out of the barn, so to speak," said Oliver Rosenbauer, a spokesperson with the World Health Organization's Global Polio Eradication Unit in Geneva.